Best Overall Brand for Sets
Calphalon? All-Clad? Anolon? Circulon? I know there are a bunch of brands, but which set is the best overall, taking into consideration a number of factors:
*Reliability (is it gonna heat up evenly, like it's supposed to?)
It depends a lot on price, but I have a set of all-clad and I really like it the best. I had some calphalon before, but I like the all-clad better. It heats very evenly and very fast and is the most durable cookware I have ever really had. Their non-stick (I only have it on a couple omlet pans) is good; i've been careful with it and it doesn't seem to have scratched and I've had it since 1999. If you're looking for a set of all-clad, shop around because their sets vary a bit from store to store. I got mine at bloomingdales and they have some pretty good sales on their cookware from time to time.
First, as I'm sure you'll hear a lot: I'm not a fan of sets. I find that there are always pieces I just don't use.
Second, for the money, durability, performance, etc...the proprietary 8 piece stainless stell Calphalon set that Target sells for about $150 is really good stuff. Its not clad all the way through, but for day to day cooking and workhorse duty, they do a good job. Its got two non-stick interior saute pans, and 3 pots of various sizes all with lids. We use all of them a lot and we find the sizes of the various pieces pretty handy. With a couple of carefully chosen additional pieces (Staub dutch oven, 3qt All-Clad saute skillet, etc) we've got our kitchen pretty well outfitted.
You have to realize that while there are real differences in the durability and 'quality' of the brands listed there are relatively minor differences in the "evenness of heating". The heat transfer properties of copper are best, followed by aluminum. Stainless steel is generally the most durable surface, though it has no "nonstick" properties. Most folks like/need a cast iron skillet and/or dutch iron as well as a non-stick skillet and out sauce pan in addition to any "set".
Traditional calphalon is solid spun aluminun. Anolon & Circulon are thinner stamped Al, coated in non-stick.
Traditional AllClad is a multilayer Al clad in stainless. They also make lines that have a Copper Core, as well as those that are clad, inside & out in polished stainless as well as a line that is stainless inside and anodized Al out.
Price varies a lot -- with the All Clad Copper Core being the priciest of those you mention and the the Anolon the least costly.
There are other brands of multi-layer cookware too, though none are as widely available or as heavily advertised as All-Clad...
I saw what I think is that set in our local Costco the other day. They really do look pretty good for the price; I think they are cheaper in the store BTW, like $150. They are nonstick. The ones at the store have a big "titanium" blah blah sticker on it. The web site mentions DuPont, so I'm not sure if they're the same coating or not, or the web site is an old description, dunno. The shapes and handles and lids look the same.
Costco also has a stainless set I saw at the store. They are 5-ply clad bottoms (including some copper), but they are apparently not clad in the sides.
Also saw pieces and sets from Tramontina and another Italian brand (can't remember the name) in the store. Well, made in Italy, can't say for sure they are Italian brands because I don't really know....